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Is Chinese attack on Taiwan imminent? ; By Jai Kumar Verma

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

Image Courtesy: The Japan Times

Article Courtesy: Aviation & Defence Universe

Article 23/2022

Jai Kumar Verma

An emergency meeting was held recently in which the senior officers of Chinese Finance Ministry and CEOs of Chinese and international banks, discussed how to protect Chinese overseas assets in case United States puts sanctions against China. The meeting have alarmed the world especially Taiwan and its neighbouring countries. Taiwan became worried as China took practical lessons as US and the Western world seized Russian assets in their countries after Moscow action in Ukraine.

Chinese administration has extended support to Russia in its war with Ukraine but Chinese banks and companies took necessary precautions while conducting business with Russian companies so that US does not impose sanctions on China also. In the meeting the Chinese representatives had not specified any reason but the people present in the meeting visualised that China must be contemplating, if it attacks Taiwan and US and its allies put sanctions, how China can mitigates its effects.

China claims Taiwan as its part and criticises US for having official relations with Taiwan as it violates China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Not only this in last week of April Chinese Embassy in Washington DC clarified that the situation between Ukraine and Taiwan are distinct and US endeavour to create a similarity, is with ulterior motive to mislead the world. The Chinese embassy also claimed that US administration is utilizing Taiwan issue to repress China. US is a biggest source of arms supply to Taiwan. In 2021 Taiwan purchased armament worth $750 million while in 2022 it has already purchased arms worth $ 195 million which includes Patriot Air defence system.

Taiwan as precautionary measures is purchasing more and more armaments from US. Taiwanese army is planning to extend a runway on disputed island namely Taiping which is located in South China Sea. The runway would be extended so that it can accommodate fighter jets also. The disputed island which is in possession of Taiwan is claimed by China, Vietnam, and Philippines.

In a virtual dialogue between President Biden and President Xi Jinping on 18 March, the issue of Taiwan was also discussed. The China watchers claim that China is still assessing the reactions and repercussions of the Russia Ukraine war. When Taiwan enhanced its alarm level, China made it clear that there is vast difference between Ukraine and Taiwan.

Few months before Russian attack on Ukraine, Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute conducted surveys three times about the possibilities of Russian attack on Ukraine and Chinese attack on Taiwan. All the three surveys mentioned that the possibilities of Chinese attack on Taiwan is much less in comparison to the Russian attack on Ukraine. The surveys also mentioned that US would increase the supply of weapons but would not involve in military operations against China.

The people to people contact between Taiwan and China is increasing. At present about one million Taiwanese live in China and Taiwanese Companies have invested approximately $60 billion in China. Taiwanese run their factories in China and they are worried about their companies and investments in China in case of Chinese invasion in Taiwan. However, majority of Taiwanese are against the increasing influence of China in Taiwan and in 2014 the young Taiwanese made a protest under “Sunflower Movement” against the expanding influence of China. The latest polls also suggest that the majority public of Taiwan supports the present ruling party The Democratic Progressive Party’s approach of preserving the sovereignty of the country. In 2020 election the current president Tsai Ing-wen got outstanding 8.2. million votes which indicates that the majority prefers to maintain Taiwan’s sovereignty. The support for Taiwan sovereignty enhanced after seeing Chinese atrocities in Hong Kong. The KMT (The Kuomintang) party supports Taiwan’s re-unification with China.

The Chinese observers also feel that the ineffectual support of US and Western countries to Ukraine may embolden China to take military action against Taiwan. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act mentions that US will support the capability of Taiwan to defend itself but does not declare that US would militarily intervene if China attacks. It would be the decision of President of US. In 1979 there was a vast difference in the military might of US and China but China has enhanced its economic as well as military power.  Now the difference between the strength of US and China is minimising and it may embolden China to invade Taiwan. There is an ambiguity about the US assistance to Taiwan and when President Biden mentioned that US would help Taiwan in case of Chinese attack the State Office spokesperson made it clear that there is no change in US policy about Taiwan. US has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan but sells arms and ammunition to Taiwan.

China claims Taiwan as its province while Taipei mentions that it is a sovereign country with viable democracy and a constitution. In past it was recognised by several countries but as the influence of China is enhancing now only 15 countries diplomatically recognise Republic of China (Taiwan). The analysts also mention that it would not be easy for China to take over Taiwan as the country has 300,000 troops and it can mobilise about 450,000 troops against invasion. As Taiwanese troops would be on home turf hence Chinese would need about 1.2 million army to defeat them. Both countries have plenty of lethal weapons including long-range missiles. Hence large number of ships, strategic targets would be destroyed. US and allies would supply arms and ammunition generously as they want to weaken China which has emerged as a major power and challenging the super power status of US.

Chinese effort of annexation of Taiwan would be harmful for China also. Chinese soldiers have not fought a war since long and when dead bodies would start pouring the public opinion would become against President Xi Jinping. Not only this even after capture of Taiwan the problem would continue as majority of 24 million people of Taiwan are against the communist regime. Hence President Xi. Jinping may be happy if China captures Taiwan but may not attack in near future. The wild threats in Chinese media and statements of Chinese leaders may be only for public consumption and to assess the world opinion.

Chinese observers feel that Xi Jinping is a shrewd politician hence he would not attack Taiwan but wait for its merger peacefully. Xi is 68 years old hence he can wait for few years more for the merger of Taiwan. However Chinese fighter planes would continue intruding Taiwanese territory to show to the world that Taiwan is part of China. Chinese authorities would assess the loss of men and damage of its economy before taking any military action against Taiwan. However, in 2024 Communist Party of China would elect its leader and China claims that in 2027 its army would be fully modernised and can be equal to US armed forces. China may try to annex Taiwan in these years.

Meanwhile, China would continue with its disinformation campaign, would escalate cyberattacks and would try to punish Taiwan economically.

(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of the United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are of  the author and do not reflect the views of C3S.)

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